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Doubting College Podcast Series

Young people should finish high school, then head to college. That has long been the default thinking for many American families. But in the past decade, attitudes have taken a dramatic turn. Skepticism of higher education is at an all-time high. The number of young people who say a college degree is very important fell to 41 percent in 2019 from 74 percent in 2013. And families across many income brackets are more open to waiting on college or skipping it altogether.

Through interviews with current high school students, their parents and guidance counselors, as well as an analysis of developments in the past decades that have contributed to these attitude changes, EdSurge is diving into the complex factors at work and the real stakes for students planning their lives and educators trying to prepare them for a changing world.

Find out more and listen at the Doubting College series page.

Attention Please: Podcast series about disengaged students

Keeping the attention of students during lectures has always been hard. And after COVID-19 disruptions that meant years of Zoom teaching, many professors say things are harder now.

This three-episode podcast series explores this rise in student disengagement — and what creative professors are doing to counteract it.

Much of the reporting was done from the back of large lecture rooms at one large public college — Texas State University. A group of professors invited us to observe their classes, and we talked to them and their students about what teaching is like these days.

The stakes are huge, because the concern is that maybe the social contract between students and professors is kind of breaking down. Do students believe that all this college lecturing is worth hearing? Or, will this moment force a change in the way college teaching is done?

Second Acts podcast series

There are 36 million Americans who have earned some college credit, but not an actual degree. More colleges than ever are trying to help these students return to finish what they started. But so far, colleges are better at attracting these learners than helping them get across the finish line. Why is it so hard? What do these students want? What challenges do they face? And what strategies seem to be working?

I produced and hosted this EdSurge podcast series digging into the struggles of returning adult college students in this three-episode narrative podcast series. We followed the educational journeys of three college students from different backgrounds and different parts of the country. Along the way, we met some of their professors, academic coaches and other folks working to help them succeed.

Bootstraps podcast series on educational equity

I’m leading this narrative podcast series, Bootstraps: Merit, myths and education, which is a collaboration between EdSurge and Open Campus.

There’s a longstanding tradition of prizing “merit” in deciding which students get access to the best educational opportunities in America. The narrative goes that a merit-based system allows anyone “to pull themselves up by their bootstraps” to land a slot in a selective public magnet school or an elite college. But does the current system achieve equality? Are there potentially better—or at least fairer—ways to allocate educational opportunity?

This 6-episode podcast series aims to explore those questions through in-depth reporting and compelling audio storytelling. Each episode will tell the story of popular myths and assumptions of education, and along the way we’ll look at experiments in distributing educational opportunity. The goal is to introduce listeners to the complexities of the issues through rich characters struggling to balance their own needs and dreams with those of the broader community.


An episode of the series was co-published by The Chronicle of Higher Education, and that let me work with award-winning Chronicle reporter Eric Hoover.

I was interviewed by award-winning author and influencer Jeff Selingo about what we learned from the Bootstraps series.

I spun off a piece based on the reporting from the Bootstraps series for The Hustle.

Pandemic Campus Diaries podcast series

What is life really like on college campuses (or remote learning) during this pandemic? All this semester, we’ll be following profs and students on 6 campuses to hear their stories on this podcast series on the EdSurge Podcast.

The stakes for professors feel high: “What I’m most concerned about is that one of my students will get sick enough that they are forever affected, or sick enough that they don’t make it,” says Rachel Davenport, a senior lecturer at Texas State University, in one of her audio diaries. “And then if that happens, will I wonder, did they catch it in my class? Could I have done something different to have prevented it?”

Meanwhile, students are having a campus experience that some colleges are even comparing to a minimum security prison, like one Syracuse freshman who describes his quarantine in his dorm. Online students, too, face challenges, like the first-generation student who talks about her struggle to find a quiet place to study with two kids at home.


We’re thrilled that the podcast series won support from the Education Writers Association through a reporting fellowship.

I talked with Higher Ed Geek Podcast about our new series and what we’re learning so far.

The Chronicle of Higher Education noted the launch of our podcast series.

I sat down with the TeachLab podcast at MIT to talk about what we’re learning so far from our series.

The podcast series has been reviewed in a couple places, including at eLiterate and the PhilOnEdTech blog.

I also joined this new online event series, Blursday Social, to discuss issues raised by the podcast series.

Podcasting during the pandemic

A lot of my focus is covering colleges. Before COVID-19 swept across the globe, it was easy to see college life, which happened in busy classrooms and spacious libraries and lush campus quads. Now with campuses temporarily closed due to the health emergency, the activity of professors and students has shifted online. And that makes it hard to know just what is going on right now in higher education—and in so much of American life.

How many students just can’t get to online classrooms because they lack technology or Wi-Fi access? What other economic hardships are students and professors facing due to the crisis? Are people staying healthy?

For the weekly EdSurge Podcast that I produce and co-host, we’re trying to create a space where people can share their stories, and at least hear each other during this time of social distancing.

If you’re teaching a class online for the first time, suddenly taking your courses digital or helping lead an institution through this crisis, we hope you’ll share a short one- or two-minute anecdote or observation about how that is going. What does it look and feel like to live through this time in higher education? Just open the voice memo app on a smartphone, record a short message and email it to jryoung@gmail<dot>com. Please do keep it short, and share a moment that surprised or challenged you. We’ll compile some of them for a future episode of our weekly podcast.

Reporting Trip to China

The intersection of technology and education is big news in China these days. Families spend huge portions of their incomes on extra learning for their children, including online tutoring.

EdSurge sent me to Beijing for a week to cover the annual conference Global Education Technology Summit, thanks to our new partnership with the Chinese media company that puts on the conference, JMDedu.

Here are the stories I filed from the trip:

Education Looks Eastward: Snapshots from Beijing’s Global Education Technology Summit

In China’s Silicon Valley, Edtech Starts at the ‘MOOC Times Building’

In China, a Generation Raised by ‘Tiger Mothers’ Seeks a Softer Approach

How Much Artificial Intelligence Should There Be in the Classroom?

Re:Learning Podcast at Chronicle of Higher Ed

We launched a new weekly podcast on the future of education: The Re:Learning Podcast.

For the first episode, I sat down with Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, who talked about his ideas for how to change college.

‘Professor You’ Talk at SXSW Interactive

Many people have an outdated view of teaching — believing that only high-level experts should teach at the college level or that only career teachers should offer instruction in schools. But teaching is now happening fast and informally online, and today anyone can teach using free tools to make courses. And a shadow learning economy has emerged online that students are increasingly turning to. Teaching is becoming a 21st century skill for all of us.

Below are the slides from my talk at SXSWinteractive:

And here are some of the articles that formed the background for the talk:
Here Comes Professor Everybody
The New Rock-Star Professor
The Student Becomes the Teacher
Boom in Online Tutoring Means Another Cost for Many Students
Beyond the MOOC Hype

My (Short) E-Book: Beyond the MOOC Hype

MOOC_Book_jpgSebastian Thrun wasn’t wearing pants when he recorded the intro video for his first free online course. | The academics who coined the term MOOC can’t stand the style of courses that the acronym is now applied to. | People have been claiming that technology would automate eduction for decades (largely without much success). Those are just a few of the many details I learned researching a short e-book about Massive Open Online Courses. It blends stories and analysis of how free blockbuster online courses could change colleges as we know them. It’s now available on Amazon, published by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I focus on six basic questions:

* What Is a MOOC?
* Where Did MOOCs Come From?
* What Is the Business Model?
* Will MOOCs Change Campus Teaching?
* Why Do Some Educators Object to Free Courses?
* Do MOOCs Work?

I argue that MOOCs are not just another passing fad, but the free courses have touched off a battle over what the future of higher education should look like.

* Adapted Excerpt in Slate: Should Celebrities Teach Online Courses

* Excerpt in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Will MOOCs Change Campus Teaching

* Interview in Education Dive: The Future of MOOCs

* Review by Sir John Daniel, author of Mega-Schools, Technology and Teachers: “his thoughtful commentary on the frenzied phenomenon of MOOCs remains highly relevant to decision makers grappling with its implications for their institutions.”

* Blog post by Langdon Winner: “An excellent, brief discussion of a variety of programs and projects in MOOC development currently underway. “